I’m sure you’ve heard of the Golden Week in Japan before.
Today I want to explain what exactly it means and why you should avoid it – if you can.
What exactly is Golden Week?
Golden Week (ゴールデンウィーク) refers to a rare accumulation of Japanese national holidays.
While students get a lot of school vacation, the working population in Japan usually doesn’t.
But Golden Week is golden because it’s the longest vacation period of the year for most Japanese employees.
Golden Week is one of the most popular travel season and thus extremely crowded. This photo was taken inside of Kyoto Station.
When is Golden Week?
Golden Week is usually from April 29 to May 5 (sometimes May 6) and includes the following public holidays:
April 29: Showa Day (昭和の日, showa no hi)
On this day the birthday of the former emperor, Showa Emperor Hirohito who died in 1989, is celebrated. Japanese people are supposed to remember the 63 years of the Showa Era and also the hardships they had to endure during that time.
Until 2006, Greenery Day (now on May 4) was celebrated on April 29.
May 3: Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日, kenpou kinenbi)
Japan’s new postwar constitution became effective on May 3 1947.
May 4: Greenery Day (みどりの日, midori no hi)
Greenery Day is – as the name suggests – a day where Japanese people should appreciate the environment and nature.
Until 2006 it was celebrated on April 29. May 4 used to be a nameless holiday. It was a national holiday because a certain law in Japan states that a day between two national holidays also needs to become a holiday. Don’t even ask!
May 5: Children’s Day (こどもの日, kodomo no hi)
“Kodomo no Hi” is also known as “The Boy’s Festival” (端午の節句, tango no sekku) – as opposed to “The Girl’s Festival” which is celebrated on March 3.
You’ll notice it’s Golden Week when you see all the “carp streamers” (koinobori) hanging everywhere in Japan around this time of the year.
At home families also display samurai dolls that represent strength and success. This is to pray for a healthy and successful life of one’s son.
Nowadays, it’s not exculsively a festival for boys anymore, but parents generally pray for their childrens’ happinnes.
After reading this you might probably think that Japan is kind of all over the place with their holidays – and I agree. I mean, we also have “Marine Day” (umi no hi) and since 2016 there’s also “Mountain Day“. Well, as long as there’s another day off, who cares, right?
You’ve probably already noticed that those few days don’t result in a whole week of consecutive holidays. That’s right.
But most people will get the entire time off from April 29 to May 5. In some cases there’s even a “Compensation Holiday” (振替休日, furikae kyuujitsu) on either April 30 or May 6 if any of the previously mentioned holidays falls on a Sunday.
Yes, Golden Week is holy! ;)
Golden Week 2019: April 27-29 + May 3-6
(*note that because of the Emperor’s abdication it might be a 10 days long vacation this year!)
Golden Week 2020: April 29 + May 2-6
Why Should I avoid Golden Week in Japan?
I’ve mentioned this in a lot of my blog posts already. Golden Week is certainly not the best time to travel in Japan.
The majority of Japanese people will have these days off, making it one of the most popular travel season in Japan.
Of course, some of them will travel abroad, but as it’s the most expensive season, a lot will stay in Japan.
This results in crowded popular sightseeing spots!
Airports, train stations and highways will also be very crowded.
If you live in Japan, then you probably have your vacation during Golden Week as well.
You could just stay at home, but who wants to do that, right?
If you don’t live in Japan, but absolutely have to come during Golden Week, book way in advance!
Not only is Golden Week an expensive season, it’s also difficult to find vacant accomodation, rental cars etc.
You need to plan ahead and book everything months(!) in advance.
That being said, there are many places in Japan that aren’t so busy – even during Golden Week.
Those are the less known spots, but they’re still great, so you might want to stay away from anything your guidebook is suggesting.
You can use my previous Golden Week trips as a refercen to see how crowded several places were: Golden Week 2012 / Golden Week 2013 / Golden Week 2014.
These were pretty much the only “people” I ran into in Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu during Golden Week 2014.
Most offices in Japan close during Golden Week, some up to 10 days. Make sure you have enough cash on you as you might have a hard time withdrawing money during GW.
If you can, you should come either right before or after Golden Week as it’s a nice travel season after all with azaleas, cherry blossoms, shibazakura, wisteria and much more. Please note that there are some really interesting festivals that can only be attended during Golden Week such as Hamamatsu’s Kite Fighting (May 3-5) or Fukuoka’s Hakata Dontaku Festival (May 3-4).
What’s your experience with Golden Week in Japan?
- Have you been in Japan during Golden Week?
- What was your experience?
- Was it extremely crowded where you went?
- Did you book in advance?
- Did you have difficulties finding vacant accommodations?
Feel free to tell me and share your experience and tips with others in the comments below!~
Thank you for the website, very helpful.
I wondered if I could get your advice please. We are travelling in Japan April 11 to May 28 this year with our 9 month old daughter. Obviously having a baby means we are trying to be as prepared as possible!
We have booked an Air BnB in Tokyo for 1 week, then a ryokan for 2 nights in Hakone, then an Air BnB for 1 week in Suwa near Matsumoto. Our choices have been informed by accessibility to rail stations and accommodation availability at a decent price.
Now we are planning the next bit of itinerary and trying to avoid the busiest parts of the Golden Week, especially with a baby!
Initially, we planned to go to Kyoto but found the accommodation too difficult to find, and we understand it is a really busy place to be so best to avoid then!
Instead, we decided to stay in the Japan Alps for a few nights to avoid the crowds at the start of GW so have booked to stay in Gero near Takayama, from Saturday 27 April until Wednesday 1st May.
We then plan to go to Kobe on 1st May when hopefully it will be a less busy time to travel, and on to Hiroshima on 4th May. Since the GW ends 6th May this year, we hope again this will avoid the crowds.
What do you think? Will we have some problems with crowds on these routes?
We really appreciate the advice on the itinerary!
It’s always a bit difficult to tell where it will be crowded the most during GW. It’s different each year. The first and last day of GW the Shinkansen will be super packed, so I’d avoid long distance travelling on those days. Kobe might be a little crowded, but should be bearable. I think Hiroshima could be crowded, but at least much less than Kyoto. I would avoid going to Miyajima, though, during GW. Nearby Okayama, Shimane or Yamaguchi Prefectures are certainly less crowded during that time.
Enjoy your vacation!! ^___^